questionsa coworker (subordinate) clearly needs to see a…


I'm a bit frustrated because I have told him for nearly a year to go get it checked out. Should I keep asking him about it? Or is this a personal matter and it's none of my business how he handles his health? A coworker, an old friend of his, says he's always been like this--afraid of going to the doctor and he prefers to try to "fix things" with sage, incense, and rituals. I feel like as his supervisor, maybe it's my duty to make sure he is fit to work (besides the 3 days out, it hasn't affected his work yet), but at the same time, is this a private matter?

Also, before anyone tells me to talk to HR, we don't have an HR department :-(


We have a rule about missing x days in a row = provide a doctor's note.
Can you add this rule a few weeks after this blows over?


I honestly don't have an answer for you re: "your duty." You've tried many times. I don't get the feeling that all of your concern is work related. Your concern and compassion is apparent.

He appears to be terrified of Drs.; and, probably extremely fearful of a diagnosis. Might I suggest something? Could you offer to make an appointment AND go with him to the Dr.? That might give him the courage to go.


I ran into a former supervisor in the pharmacy last week. He's working in a great job for a really big bank, and he had to go to the ER (and then the pharmacy) because his supervisor, whom he really likes, stood over him till he finished a phone call and then unplugged his desk phone. Seems he'd mentioned that two fingers were numb when he woke that morning. She suggested he take some time and see a doctor, and he countered by saying he'd go late in the day if it wasn't better. She stopped by his desk after lunch and "helped" him decide. He's generally a wait-and-see kinda guy, but this turned out to be a pinched nerve. No big deal, really, but I think he was pleased that she was concerned for him.

Tell you employee you're worried about him and about his ability to do his work well, since you know that's important to him. Tell him he needs to go now. Today. Offer to go with him if that's possible. Whatever it is isn't going away on its own.


If it interferes with his work, with your departments productivity then I'd say it's perfectly acceptable to force him to go. This only applies if your company is providing him full health coverage. Otherwise, get lost.


Thanks for the feedback guys. I'm still not sure what to do. I do care about him beyond his workplace performance, but at the same time, I'm a very non-confrontational person who likes to avoid anything personal/emotional at work. I'm the only one in the office that is not Facebook friends with everyone else and I like it that way.

Also, I worry about breaking any rules/laws in that he actually believes the sage and rituals will help him. He's seeing a Santeria "doctor" and I wonder if me trying to get him to see an actual M.D. will be taken as imposing upon his religious views.

I think I'll just casually mention it one more time "So, are you ever going to get your stomach pains checked out? It's not going to go away on its own even if you temporarily feel better now.." I'll leave the nagging for my guy at home.


@thewronggrape: I hadn't thought about the secular medical provider vs. religious and/or traditional healers. You're right -- that makes a very big legal difference indeed.

I don't think you can get into the business-y perspective if his work is okay, and being out of the office for three days seems to be pretty reasonable for any kind of illness. If his ability to perform his work satisfactorily seems to be degrading, though, then you're in a different situation.

I'm concerned, though, that you say your company doesn't have an HR department. If you're in a business of any kind (eg, is there an employer who pays you and him?), then someone is in charge of the HR functions such as hiring, handling benefits and tax issues, EEOC concerns, etc. That is the person who you need to talk to if and when work-performance problems surface.

I'm sorry you're having to work through this; it's a tricky balancing act.


I can't believe your nutty boss hasn't gotten an HR rep yet. You should kick this up the chain of command and let him deal with it. That's what bosses are for. Not shady intern business.


@thewronggrape: Sage? The symptoms do actually sound like a sage allergy if that's something he's ingesting.

Abdominal pain could really be anything - appendicitis, ulcer, cancer. But almost all of them are deadly if untreated.


@zuiquan: Ha, you remember!

The company, now at about 50 employees, is owned and operated solely by two owners. There's a lot of issues that I won't get in to now, but basically, 1 owner, if she shows up in the office at all, spends most of her time shopping online. The other owner tries to be the head of everything (HR, Facilities, Accounting, Buying, Marketing), and as one would expect, ends up doing each of them pretty poorly. He refuses to hire help. He gets annoyed when his day is taken up by paperwork/HR issues, whines about it, and yet won't even hire an admin. He snapped an employee who told him one of the toilets was broken, given the attitude that such an issue was beneath him, but there's no one else to go to. He put himself in charge of everything but doesn't want to deal with everything. It's pretty ridiculous.

Going to him will only make things worse.

Oh, and my coworker is burning sage and waving it around to cleanse himself of evil health spirits. Yeah.


@thewronggrape: I think as his boss you are not in any position to force him to see a doctor. But as a decent human being you have some responsibility (and obviously inclination) to do what you can to help him. He may have religious beliefs at work here, but most of them don't forbid seeing a doctor as well as herbal healers. However, if he is consulting an herbal healer, he will need to be careful about mixing meds and be upfront with his doctor on what he's taking. Many modern meds are founded on herbal meds, and he could end up double dosing if both practitioners come to the same conclusion and prescribe what amounts to the same remedy. I don;t think you have to be too intimate to tell the guy that you care about him, you are worried for his health, and ask what you can do to help make sure he's able to see a doctor.


@thewronggrape: I feel for you in this situation. I can just imagine your boss asking why you didn't have him do something about this goofy guy if he actually does have a serious illness. Sounds like a total pain either way.


@zuiquan: Aha! You just gave me an idea. Thank you!

@thewronggrape: It might be a good idea to tell your boss(es) (the owners) about this employee. I strongly urge you to send an em. List your concerns and how you have encouraged him to go to a doctor for over a year. Ask your boss(es) if they have any suggestions on other actions you could take.

If neither respond, you have, at the very least informed them. In writing. Sort of 'covering' yourself, as it were. Maybe they are unaware of how serious the situation is. Or maybe they don't care, and expect for you to handle it. Either way, it may assuage some of your concerns.


Bring someone in for him to "train"
Tell him it's precautionary because you need to make sure someone can do his job if this health thing turns out to be serious and he ignored it.
If that doesn't spark him to action, at least you have his backup at the ready.

j5 j5

sounds like a hernia. I suggest you operate on him over lunch break tomorrow. Since you're not a doctor, he shouldn't be worried.


I think you have done what you can. There is a definite line that you cannot cross however good your intentions are. If he is not missing days at work and deadlines and/or being disruptive to the work environment and other employees, I think you need to offer help when/if he needs it and then drop the matter. Hopefully, he will be able to get his issues sorted through. It is, after all, not your enterprise, and if the boss is disinterested or unwilling to become involved, time will tell.


@klozitshoper: seeing/hearing a coworker in obvious pain would qualify as a disruption to the work environment.

OP: it IS a fine line - you can't offer medical advice and in most states you also can't insist on his seeing a doctor, however, in the above case (ie: distraction in the work environment) you can insist that he maintains a level of professionalism and performance, and give him a mandatory few days off (if that's your call) to take care of "whatever issues" he is experiencing, with the clear expectation that they are to be resolved, or steps have been taken and it's on the way to being resolved when he gets back.


Obviously his productivity is impacted, it's okay to tell him he has to take advantage of his health plan and get it checked out. That's why it's there. It's like sending home a contagious/sick employee. You do it because it DOES affect your bottom line.

Of course you care about this person as a human being, and that's the overriding reason. But as a boss you need a business excuse, and you've got a solid one.


Is he afraid to use public restrooms? Cuz that could explain why it's a problem some days and not others. Give him a private restroom and see if it improves.


If your company has at least 50 employees for 20 weeks out of the year, you probably come under the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). From your description of the owners, they probably don't want to hear this, but it's not something they want to run afoul of. If whoever is running payroll for you (in lieu of a regular HR person) is addressing FMLA, perhaps you can step up and offer to do so. (I just retired after 33 years in HR, the last 20 as an HR Director of an organization with 500+ employees and 750+ contractors.) I can't tell you how many times I used FMLA as a tool to get to the bottom of a problem with an employee. Our policy was to require employees to submit a completed FMLA form under certain circumstances, such as for any sick leave of 3 days or more. The form had to be completed by a health care provider so the employee HAD to see a doctor in order to return to work.

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A quicker route would be to require the employee to have his health care provider complete a fitness for duty form or a release to return to work form. I can probably draft up something to send you if this would help. Basically, this would require that you give the employee a description of his essential job functions, and the employee would have to have his doctor review these duties and indicate in writing whether the employee can perform the duties with or without accommodations or limitations. Essential functions CAN include the ability to come to work full time, to sit for extended periods or time, to work without distracting others, etc.

My suggestion would be to meet privately with this employee, have such a form ready, and to explain that whatever his medical situation, it is interfering with his work and with that of his co-workers. Suggest that he voluntarily see his doctor and address the issue, or that you will be forced to REQUIRE completion of the form.


If it were me, I'd tell him pretty simply that I was concerned that whatever is wrong with him could possibly affect (per your description is occurring) or infect those around him. I would also tell him that if he did not have an answer to this issue by the end of this or next week, you would recommend to the boss(es) that he be laid off until he returns to work with paperwork such as a doctor's note showing he had been checked out and is cleared to return to work. Had to do this once and was successful.

Of course, check your state labor laws.